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Monthly Archives: April 2012

FRENCH KISS

As I was looking through my DVD library trying to find a light comedy to watch, I pulled out French Kiss that I hadn’t seen in a long time. I thought the title was rather appropriate with my project of reading and viewing  material that is French related!  It was produced in 1995 starring Meg Ryan as Kate  and Kevin Kline as Luc. It was a light heartwarming  story about a jilted woman who flies to Paris to bring her fiancé back to his senses and bring him back home. Of course she meets a French man who complicates this process.

I was particularly happy  to see so much of Paris in the movie.   I even saw the inside of  George V Hotel that I wrote about in one  my blogs when I imagined myself sitting in one its dining rooms.  Of course I wouldn’t want to lose my bag to a thief like Kate  did in its lobby!

I also enjoyed viewing the  beautiful countryside as Kate and Luc rode on a train heading to the south of France still chasing after her fiancé.  I couldn’t help think of my daughter who is joining us in Paris when Kate says, “What’s with the French and their dairy?”  It’s going to be a challenge for her to find food that won’t make her ill since so much of French food contains dairy.   Therefore, I didn’t know whether to laugh or be concerned when  on the train, Kate indulges in some cheese, claiming that she doesn’t seem to be reacting to French cheese, when suddenly she is in agony shouting, ” LACTOSE INTOLERANT!

In one  of  the scenes, when she is chatting to her fiancé, she explains that she has learned to be rude to waiters since they will respond to her wishes more that way!     Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni who wrote an essay in Paris Was Ours would readily agree:    The daily humiliations I encountered until I realized that the accepted protocol is to bite back~!  How the endless non morph into a honeyed oui when you stand your ground!  And learning to accept the acerbic humour even if it stings!  Imagine asking a middle-aged man for directions – it was my first day – and being served with “Mademoiselle, do I look like a map?”

Unfortunately, Kate, even though she was a history teacher,  portrayed an ignorant tourist not knowing much about France so that at one point, she asks Luc if France is a democracy.  He didn’t portray the stereotype French person who would have responded much more harshly than just a quiet, “Oui!”

However I did appreciate Kate’s outburst against the French woman’s pout and keeping the man on edge so that he cannot  anticipate her thoughts and feelings.  And yet, when Luc convinced her to be provocative and not crying and begging her fiancé to come home, she successfully made her fiancé apologize and want to return to her.  Maybe the French woman knows what she is doing, n’est pas?

Anyways, French Kiss accomplished what I needed:  a quiet, relaxing evening eating popcorn and enjoying a comedy that also allowed me to see more of France!

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Posted by on April 18, 2012 in Books, DVDs, France, Paris, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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DON’T TRUST YOUR INTUITION IN FRANCE!

I see a nice man,” she said simply.  “You want to know how I can tell?  It’s the same gut feeling I use with animals.  Somehow you just know when they are going to be okay, or you know they’re potentially vicious and going to bite.  I don’t think you are going to bite me, Jake Bronson.”  This conversation is from Elizabeth Adler’s novel, Invitation To Provence

I chose this book assuming I would read some lovely details about Provence, but the author focused more on the conflicts between relationships and of course the growing romance between some of them.  The story could easily have occurred anywhere in the world rather than specifically in Provence.  However, I did find myself wondering about this character’s intuition and how much we can rely upon that intuition especially when we are visiting another country.

I actually had  difficulty trusting Fanny Marten’s intuition since this  confident statement was  coming from a woman who recently just learned that the man she was dating was married!  And yet, Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink, gives interesting evidence that supports the effectiveness of our snap judgments.  For example, in one study, the researcher Ambady  gave the subjects a two second videotape of three teachers and asked them to evaluate them.  Then she compared those snap judgments with evaluations of the same professors made by their students after a full semester of classes, and she found that they were essentially the same!  As Gladwell comments, “That’s the power of our adaptive unconscious.”

Malcolm Gladwell cautions his reader when he writes, “Blink is not just a celebration of the power of the glance, however.  I’m also interested in those moments when our instincts betray us.”  Gladwell may be able to explain Fanny’s   initial poor judgment when he writes about another study involving speed dating:  “Many people who looked at Warren Harding saw how extraordinarily handsome and distinguished-looking he was and jumped to the immediate – and entirely unwarranted- conclusion that he was a man of courage and intelligence and integrity.  They didn’t dig below the surface.  The way he looked carried so many powerful connotations that it stopped the normal process of thinking dead in its tracks.”

As a tourist, do we have instincts that will betray us when we interact with people of a different culture?  Gladwell explains how another study revealed how the face has a mind of its own.  “We can use our voluntary muscular system to try to suppress those involuntary responses.  But, often, some little part of that suppressed emotion – such as the sense that I’m really unhappy even if I deny it – leaks out.:  Supposedly, if we watch those facial expressions closely, we can accurately make an accurate snap judgment.  However,  as David Lebovitz writes in Paris Was Ours, “I do my best to act like a Parisian:  I smile only when I actually have something to be happy about”   Since the French don’t smile as readily as we Canadians do,  I could easily make a wrong snap judgment that the unsmiling French person is unhappy or even “suspicious looking”.

Or if I saw a mother “speak with a sharpness that is alarming to the uninitiated” as Janine Di Giovanni describes in the same book,  I might think she abuses her children at home and should be reported!    However, As Janine Di Giovanni explains, “They think they are doing their children a favour, which is to civilize them.”

Or I might conclude that the French have no morality when they are indifferent to their leader’s moral failings.  And yet, as I read Alicia Drake’s essay in Paris Was Ours, their acceptance is merely their  “recognition of human frailty.”

Obviously, it is imperative that as a tourist, we really need to be aware of some of the cultural differences to help us make snap judgments.

But as for my character Fanny Marten in the novel Invitation to Providence,  Sigmund Freud himself supports Fanny’s intuition regarding her new boyfriend:  “When making a decision of minor importance, I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons.  In vital matters, however, such as the choice of a mate or a profession, the decision should come from the unconscious, from somewhere within ourselves.  In the important decisions of personal life, we should be governed, I think, by the deep inner needs of our nature”   (Blink by Malcolm Gladwell)

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2012 in Books, France, Paris, Travel

 

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WILL TANGO MEET US IN PARIS?


I saw my first foreign film and appropriately, my first French film, when I was in Junior High. Those were the days before Flixter, Rotten Tomatoes and movie trailers on the web.  Instead, we relied upon the very short “blurb” about the movie under showtimes.  This nostalgic piece of information is mentioned to explain how my sister, my cousin and I found ourselves sitting in a dark theatre, looking at each other bewildered when we read on the screen the title “Un Homme Et Une Femme”. We expected a romance called “One Man and One Woman.” I’m sure the more serious film enthusiasts sitting there became a little disturbed when they heard an eruption of dismayed laughter.  However, it didn’t take long for the three of us to slip into a sedated stupor and nearly needed to be awakened when it was over.

I have progressed since that first show and have read subtitles from various films but none have been as memorable.  Anyways, last week I watched another French foreign film but this time I stayed alert and even chuckled at the right time.  It was the story of Amelie who was reared as a recluse with two very eccentric parents whose mom eventually dies leaving her with a father who barely acknowledges her.  Once she leaves him and begins working, she has an experience that reveals to her that she needs to “get involved” in other people’s lives helping them.  However, she doesn’t ever show herself and remains reclusive.  Eventually, she learns that she must take a risk in relationships in order to live fully.

What I will remember the most from this film is when Amelie steals a large yard gnome from her father’s yard and begins sending her dad  postcards of the gnome in various countries.  Eventually, it convinces her father that he too should take a                        risk and follow his great desire to travel.

I don’t have  a large gnome that travelled around the world, but during my past two trips, a small beanie animal who was once called Trouble but has been renamed Tango, surprised me by popping out of my purse on the airplane.  Okay, I admit it, I am the one who put him there, but do my grandchildren have to know that?

 I plan to create a book for my grandchildren about this adventurous  little animal who wants desperately to see the world.  And when he saw my large purse sitting open on the floor at the airport,  he jumped in and slept until we were safely flying up in the air!  Since our trip to Palm Springs, he has shown up in Vegas and then again in Palm Springs!  He isn’t as large and doesn’t create quite the same presence that a large gnome would, but he fits quite nicely into a purse and will have as many fun adventures as any old gnome!
 
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Posted by on April 13, 2012 in DVDs, France, Paris, Travel

 

CHARTRE: MASTER OF SACRED GEOMETRY

I recently watched a beautiful documentary called Chartre: Master of the Sacred Compass, a cathedral that was built to create an earthly palace for the “heavenly Queen Mary” in the 12th century.  The  cathedral’s  sacredness and holiness was beautifully depicted through lovely music,  beautiful photography and through the sincere comments of those interviewed.     I am so glad that I watched this DVD since it has helped me plan how I want to see the cathedral and it has given me some information that will deepen my appreciation of this beautiful 12th century cathedral.

As I approach this cathedral,  I intend to stop at a distance in order to see its full height and then as my eyes slowly progress downward, I hope that I will be able to visialize how the cathedral is built in the proportions of the human body since a human is made in the image of God.   And as I look at the two towers, it will be helpful to remember the words of the commentator who said that they remind us to never give up, to stand up and keep on! As I focus on the taller tower, I will marvel  that its 365 feet reflects 365 days in a year and as I look at the shorter tower I will marvel that each foot of  its 28 feet represent one night of a moon cycle!

Because I am an information gatherer, my first instinct is to open my guidebook and to walk through the cathedral busily locating what I am reading. Therefore, I felt quite convicted when one of the pastors in the documentary commented that the cathedral is designed to open us up as persons, but often  tourists  miss having a spiritual experience   because they are watching the time, or talking too much or reading their guide books or they are looking through their camera lenses. I believe information about the cathedral is helpful but I plan on reading much of it before I get there so that I can be more sensitive to what I may be experiencing as I slowly walk through the cathedral.  It would be a shame to miss the opportunity for self discovery and perhaps discovery of my relationship to God that one person spoke of in this DVD because I wasn’t paying attention.

I have decided that one of the first things I will do upon entering the building is to  sit in one of the pews and pretend I am one of the pilgrims who cannot read or write and who interacts with God through the Bible stories created in stained glass. I will try to set aside my written knowledge of these stories in order to better experience what I as an illiterate pilgrim would be  thinking, feeling and experiencing.

Later,  I will remember to walk quietly, perhaps even prayerfully through the cathedral recalling the words of a narrator who  said that  this cathedral is a “microcosm of the universe and a metaphor of our own life journey.” I will begin at the north portal which starts with Adam and Eve to the last judgment on the south portal so that I will experience the whole history of humanity. Interestingly,  the last judgment isn’t seen with horror but  instead, God’s Love is apparent.  And as I walk, will I see glimpses of my life journey and perhaps Gods love for me on that journey?

Recalling this documentary will certainly elevate my sense of wonder when I try to comprehend how this massive building could have been built without our standard measurements – but with a compass!  And perhaps I will better appreciate what  the Chartre’ scholar of 35 years was trying to convey when he said  that no one knows where these men got the courage to build these high arches which provided more light, where they got the courage to install all these stained glass windows without fearing that the flying buttresses couldn’t sustain the weight of the  walls. And then he provides his answer professing that even though some people may not like this answer,  there is a strong likelihood that they were confident of their mastery of the compass and they were confident that they were being  guided through Divine Inspiration!  Well!  That is certainly  a different perspective from our scientific and rational age.  When I walk through this sacred building, I want to be reminded that science and rational thought isn’t the be all and that sometimes we need to take that “leap of faith” that Kierkegaard phrased.

As I walk outside, I hope that I can find the statue of Saint Gregory who is listening to a small bird whispering to him.  Some believe the bird was revealing to him the  chant named after him.  And as I stand in front of it, I will softly repeat Saint Gregory’s wise words,  “God is both one and the same, and holy everywhere, imminent with in everything, without everything, above everything and below everything “.

Finally, as I prepare to leave, I will remember how this project must have been divinely orchestrated since I learned that this project inspired people so that “all hearts were united and each man forgave his enemies!” One pastor commented on the DVD that “It’s our forgetfulness about sacredness – so that these buildings are reminders.”  Therefore, I will look one last time and whisper my gratitude to the men and women who enthusiastically supported this building project so that I could step on holy ground.

This documentary also increased my desire to know more about labyrinths  especially when I learned that this labyrinth has the same number of stones as the days an infant stays in his mothers womb.  In this way the cathedral shows man that life is a gestation, a preparation for life in heaven!  I have already reserved books from the library to learn more about the Chartre labyrinth.

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2012 in DVDs, France, Paris, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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CAN PARISIAN CHIC BE TAUGHT?

Is it possible to develop that Parisian Chic and be confident that you are actually “pulled together” after decades of  having no real plan except “just hoping for the best”.  I intend to find that out as I read Parisian Chic: A Style Guide.  This book is written by someone who intimidates me but yet challenges me because she attempts to simplify how the Parisians accomplish a finished look.  Her name is Ines de la Fressange and she has earned the right to speak as she has been a successful model for Chanel and is currently a businesswoman with a chain of clothing boutiques.  And even in her fifties – she was born in 1957 – she still does occasional modelling as she walked the runway for Jean Paul Gaultier’s spring/summer collection in 2009.  And in 2011, she walked the runaway for Chanel. After learning this information on Wikipedia, I was curious to read what advice she could give that I might be able to copy!   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inès_de_La_Fressange

I think the most powerful advice occurs  right at the beginning when the author writes:  “Parisian style is an attitude, a state of mind. . . . A Parisian steps lightly around the fashion traps of the day.  Her secret?  She breathes the air du temps and puts it to good use, her way, and always with the same aim:  fashion should be fun.”My problem is that especially these last couple of decades I haven’t paid that much attention to current fashion.  I just wander into a store and hopefully walk out with something appropriate and that looks good on me.  Am I prepared to take that extra time to become more aware of current trends?  And of course, the real challenge is to take that current trend and modify it so that it is appropriate  for the older, more mature woman!  

Time will tell if this book can help me develop that intuitiveness to know how to  put  together an outfit and have that Parisian chic.  The author begins with a six point guide that wasn’t particularly revelatory to me – I know that buying a matching blouse and skirt can be overdone. I once bought a bright floral skirt and matching blouse and I learned rather quickly how I could look like one overdone rose.

And of course, the author talks about how the French woman knows how to purchase one expensive item and mix it with more affordable items.  With my husband heading toward retirement, it is rather mandatory that I skip the small designer item and create a Parisian chic with everything affordable!

I did find interesting her comment that  “black and navy are made for each other.”Could they be the two basic colors I work with as I consider what to pack to France?

I had to laugh when I read the examples given to demonstrate how we are to achieve an “offbeat chic:’  wear a tux jacket with sneakers, or wear a chiffon print dress with battered biker boots or a pearl necklace with a rock ‘n roll t shirt.    I think if my adult daughter arrived at my front door and witnessed me wearing a rock ‘n roll shirt while wearing pearls she would begin laughing and then strongly advise I return to the bedroom and try again!    And yet what I am reading does suggest a good, basic principle: Don’t just  look chic but have some fun with your look.   Certainly, I have  forgotten how once I looked closely at fashion magazines and then would begin going through my closet gradually having a collage of clothing strewn across the bed as I tried pants,  dresses, skirts and tops looking for that one perfect look before I went out on a date.

As I look at her photo above, I am challenged to set aside my running shoes or my Nike sandals and find a more feminine pair of shoes that I can still walk in!  I am challenged to experiment with colours since I wouldn’t have mixed a charcoal sweater with a brown pair of pants since I learned as a young woman not to mix browns and blacks together!   I seem to be dressing more and more casual which isn’t bad as long as it doesn’t look sloppy. Am I wearing jeans and a casual t-shirt almost as my uniform now?   Notice that Ines wears casual pants but dresses them up with a sweater that has some interesting trim on it.

Perhaps, as some of us get older, we are afraid that others may accuse us of “trying to look younger” and “not dressing for our age” so that we gradually get more and more dull and conservative.  Certainly, Ines de la Fressange even cautions us that we can’t wear what we used to when we were younger.  However, too many of us have heard that caution but haven’t heard how we can modify some of the current trends so that they still look flattering on the older woman.  I’m not sure where these reflections will lead me but she has indeed sown seeds of Parisian Chic into my spirit!

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Books, France, Paris, Travel

 

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DON’T BE RUDE! FOLD YOUR LETTUCE!

Do you eat your salad before your main entree or afterwards?  In our Canadian restaurants, we are served our salads before our entree, and at home we are more apt to eat our salad with our meals.  However, I have recently learned that in France, unless your salad is your main meal, you eat your salad after your main course.  Do they know something we don’t?

Two nights ago when I had a salad with our main meal, I waited and ate it at the end.  Perhaps, it served as a means of cleansing my palate before dessert? However, one web-site I read suggested that this order could also aid in our digestion.  Interestingly, this same site said that that is what traditional French cooking accomplished, but that purpose isn’t as effective with  modern “French cuisine with its more  elaborate salads and dressing flavours.”  (http://frenchfoodom/od/explorefrenchfood/p/frenchcourse.htm)

In other words, eating salad after your meal isn’t beneficial if your salad has a a high caloried dressing, cheese,  and nuts rather than a simple vinaigrette with lettuce and vegetables.   Similarly, those  that caution extends to those advocates who recommend eating  salad before your main course in order to curb your appetite.

Regardless of  whatever benefits we may experience eating our salads before or after our main dish, it seems rather obvious that we need to respect the tradition in the country we are visiting.  Sadly,  I have read that some tourists actually insist having their salad first!   No wonder the French get a bad reputation for being rude to tourists since we are being rude when we don’t respect their traditions.  I for one will be having my salad after my main course and who knows I may return back home embracing that custom.

Besides eating my salad at the right time,  I also need to practice eating my salad correctly.  You know how you are sometimes in a restaurant and the lettuce has not been cut into very small pieces and you need to cut it into smaller pieces with your fork?  Well, apparently, that is rather insulting to the chef since it infers rather loudly that he didn’t serve it “perfectly.”   Stephen Clark in his book Talk To The Snail offers a more interesting historical reason:  This is because, long ago, when cutlery was made of iron, the vinaigrette made the lettuce taste of metal.”    Well, both of those reasons may be perfectly legitimate, but how do I eat some rather large pieces of lettuce?  I was relieved when I read Adrian Leed’s advice:  ”  cutting your lettuce is simply not done … so,  learn to fold the lettuce onto your fork until it’s small enough a package to put into your mouth.  Strange, but true.”  (Adrian Leeds Top 1– Cheap inside Paris Restaurants)  I tried practicing this also two nights ago but I was eating baby romaine lettuce which didn’t need a lot of folding.  Actually, eating smaller pieces, but just a little too large to put on your fork may be even be more awkward.  I wanted to use my knife to help me fold it in half.  I am going to experiment with large pieces of lettuce and work on my technique!

A last piece of French etiquette  regarding eating salads that I need to remember is that  when I have finished, I am supposed to place the tines of my fork downward rather than upward.  The technique is easy, but my memory is sporadic.  Therefore, I think I will adopt this practice right now!

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2012 in France, Paris, Travel

 

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FATTER IN FRANCE THAN IN CANADA!


It must have been a rather vindictive  male who created the clothing size system for women in France. The North American system is so much kinder when we can start with a size 4 rather than a size 36 which is the French equivalent.  Many of us aren’t size 4 and the size of thesedouble digits quickly increase.

However, as you can see on the chart below, the French cap the largest size at size 44 which is equivalent to our size 12!  In fact, Susie Gershman in her memoir C’est La Vie mentions that   “stores got much more stock in sizes 38 and 40, but few pieces in the larger sizes.  In fact, they might have only one size 46 and when it was gone, it was gone.” She also explains that if there is an occasional larger size, they have been bought from Italy.

This author further explains, “Although a size 46 is not really the equivalent of an America 16  (it’s closer to a 14), like the size 16 in the United States, it is the end of the line.”

She had a rather embarrassing situation when she was in a store and asked the sales lady if she had an item in a size 46 or 48.   “Her eyes grew wide and she truly gasped aloud. “Mon dieu, madame!” she murmured, too horrified to hide her reaction.”

It is already difficult being bombarded by the media to convince us that we need to be thin.  What would it be like to live in a society that is so openly opposed to women carrying extra weight on them?  Oddly, It  actually appears that this attitude helps the French women to control their weight.

These past two years I have been struggling with weight gain ever since I had a hysterectomy.  However, as  a size 12 in Canada, I am not regarded as overweight.  Is that because we can quite easily buy clothing in much larger sizes?   Having this variety of sizes may be altering  our perception of our actual  size.  In France, I would see that I am on the “last” size available to purchase  clothing made in France!  Apparently, the next book I need to read is French Women Don’t Get Fat!!

Women’s Clothing
Dresses and Blouses

US

UK

Europe

Italy

France

4
6
34
40
36
6
8
36
42
38
8
10
38
44
40
10
12
40
46
42
12
14
42
48
44
14
16
44
16
18
46
18
20
48
 
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Posted by on April 4, 2012 in France, Travel

 

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